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How Congress's plan to block TRAI Act amendment could put future of Narendra Modi's principal secretary in jeopardy

Tuesday, 8 July 2014 - 9:25am IST | Agency: dna

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Congress, which has numbers on its side in the Rajya Sabha plans to block amendments in the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Act, thereby, putting the future of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s principal secretary Nripendra Mishra into jeopardy. Just two days after assuming office, the Modi government had swiftly promulgated an ordinance, amending the TRAI Act 1997, which bars any post retirement job to its chairman, to facilitate appointment of Misra to the top post in the PMO. The Congress is still the single largest party in the Rajya Sabha with 68 MPs, the BJP is distant second at 44 members.

The government has also listed the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill of the previous UPA government pending for over five years. The Bill  figures on the top of the 20 Bills listed by the Modi government for consideration during Parliament's budget session that began on Monday. The Bill allows entry of the foreign re-insurers and envisages raising the foreign holding in the insurance companies from 26 to 49 per cent. It was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 22 December, 2008 and a standing committee had cleared it back in December 2011. The government will be also introducing two anti-corruption Bills of the UPA government that lapsed with the end of the previous Lok Sabha. They are: The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill and The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations Bill.

Seven Bills introduced by the UPA government in the Rajya Sabha in 2013 are also listed for consideration and passing during the session and these include the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill and two Bills for the legislative councils in Rajasthan and Assam. Other important legislative business on the agenda include passing of Bills to replace four Ordinances and introduction of three Constitution amendment Bills.

But the government is expected to have a tough time to seek passage of the amendments in the TRAI Act from the parliament this week.  The Modi government's decision to take the ordinance route to amend the TRAI Act in order to  appoint Misra in the crucial role of principal secretary to the PM drew flak from the opposition parties.  Congress spokesperson and its deputy leader in Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma depreciated the NDA government’s move  “politicising the bureaucracy and civil service” and undermining the importance of the Cabinet system through its recent directives on appointment of officials. He charged that appointments of personal secretaries to the ministers was being made at the behest of the RSS.

Sources in the government  said the Prime Minister Modi was briefed about the ineligibility  of Misra, in the wake of the 1997 Act, but he persisted with this choice and called the law department to draft an ordinance to overturn the law. Those close to the PM say, the UP cadre IAS officer was picked up because of his integrity and his leadership skills, he has demonstrated during his previous stints.  They said that Misra even when he was TRAI chairman, had voiced his opposition against the Section 5(h) of the TRAIi Act, which prohibited the head of the telecom regulator from taking up further employment.  In his plea, he had argued that no such restriction applied to chairpersons and members of other important regulators like Competition Commission of India and Sebi.

Congress, which now plans to block the passage of this ordinance and amendment to the TRAI Act says it was a  disregard of parliamentary and democratic norms. “What was the urgency for a party that objected to an ordinance for food security and anti-corruption legislations to go for an ordinance to appoint an officer,” says Sharma.

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